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Research - Companies


Enda Goodwin
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In order to conduct an effective job search, you must know whom you are trying to reach. You also need to know as much as you can about them. Your target list of potential employers will be your road map - enabling you to set your priorities and to focus your research on specific organizations. Your target list will evolve over time as you systematically learn more about each of your potential employers. One of the ways to learn more is to research the organizations you are targeting and follow them in the news. Staying current regarding your target organizations ensures that you are well prepared for networking conversations and interviews.

Determine what you need to know and why

When you sit down at your computer to research a company, do you find yourself thinking, "I need to find everything that's 'out there' about XYZ company?"

Ask yourself:

  • Specifically what do I need to know?
  • Why do I need to know it?
  • When do I need to know it?
  • What will I do with the information once I have it?
  • How much time and effort is this particular objective worth?

Be sensitive to the ways research can hinder, as well as help, in the transition process. Company research can be time consuming. And research, on the Internet especially, can be a more palatable task - fun, in fact - compared to some of the other tasks that are required for successful transition. Be vigilant about how you are managing your time. As a rule-of-thumb, if you spend more than 10 minutes online and are no closer to the information you need than when you started, stop and seek help.

The research strategy: ask the right questions

Scan the news with a strategy in mind. You are after specific pieces of information. As you find them, take notes.

Ask yourself:

  • How big is the company?
  • What does the company do?
  • Where are their locations?
  • Is the company a leader in its field?
  • Who are the direct competitors of the company you are targeting? When you look at a list of players sorted by size, which organizations are immediately above and below the one you are targeting?
  • What is the company's history?
  • Who are the company's major competitors?
  • What are the trends facing the company?
  • What is the employment outlook in this company?
  • What are the analysts forecasting?
  • How is the company you are targeting performing compared to its competitors?
  • What are the challenges facing this company and industry?
  • What are the opportunities facing this company?
  • How are these challenges and opportunities similar to or different than what you've faced before?

Online sources for information and news on your targets

  • D&B Hoovers, available on some versions of the CRN, is a great "one-stop-shop" for company look-ups, especially when preparing for an interview. Use D&B Hoovers to get the latest information on a potential employer, to better understand the competitive landscape, or to analyze a company's performance. Also use D&B Hoovers to quickly gain in-depth knowledge of an industry, to understand past significant events, and to get conversant in trends impacting the future of the industry. To access D&B Hoovers, go to the QuickLinks tab on the upper menu and select D&B Hoovers from the menu.
  • Business Research Guide from Rutgers University Libraries is an excellent, regularly-updated compilation of business information sources - each of which has been annotated. Some of the sources here are available only to Rutgers faculty and students. But most are generally available and free. There is a section devoted specifically to "Job Searching." Many major universities - especially those with business schools - offer excellent online research tools, which are accessible to the public.
  • SEC Filings: The website of the Securities and Exchange Commission is a free site that offers an archive back to 1994 and basic search functionality by company name and Ticker symbol. The filings come in plain text format. They're not beautiful, but they're legible. The filings that are easiest to read and most likely to be useful are:
    • Annual Report to Shareholders: This is the principal document used by most public companies to disclose corporate information to shareholders.
    • Form 10-K: This is the annual report that most reporting companies file with the SEC. It provides a comprehensive overview of the registrant's business. The report must be filed within 90 days after the end of the company's fiscal year.
    • Form 10-Q: This is a report filed quarterly by most reporting companies. It includes unaudited financial statements and provides a continuing view of the company's financial position during the year. The report must be filed for each of the first three fiscal quarters of the company's fiscal year and is due within 45 days of the close of the quarter.
    • Proxy Statements (Form 14A): Pay special attention to the executive compensation information provided in this filing.
  • Company websites: A company's website can include all kinds of valuable information. Look for these kinds of items:
    • Recent press releases (of course, the press coverage here will be selective and favorable!)
    • Company history
    • Biographies on top executive
    • Locations and branches-a corporate family tree
    • Product or service information
    • Client or customer names
  • Use social media web sites such as LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter to find out specific information about your target market, new updates, promotions, new hires, recent tweets, blog updates and open job listings.

As you research your target companies, take the time to determine how you'll use what you have learned.

Ask yourself:

  • What have I learned about the company/person/product, etc. from what I have just read?
  • How does what I've learned impact how I plan to present myself in networking meetings, interviews or other communications?
  • What parts of my background should I highlight based on what I now know? Is there anything in my background that I need to downplay?
  • What kinds of needs does this organization have based on what I now know? How can I demonstrate my ability to fill those needs?

Use discretion in handling the information you found. Nobody likes a "know-it-all." Be careful about quoting things you have read unless you are certain of the source and date.

It's probably not a good idea to take your research materials with you to an interview. If you have done your homework, your preparation will be self-evident by the questions you ask. Prepare questions based on your research; this will be a great way to keep the important elements of your research close at hand and gain more information.

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